Reflections from Thursday plenary session “Stewardship with local institutions and governance: co-producing knowledge and scaling up?
Photo: Juan Emilio Sala
I face a real challenge: How to condense, in maximum 700 words, a plenary session of high-flying conceptual, methodological, practical and affective ideas? In a fantastic talk, chaired by Berta Martín-Lopez, Doctors Fikret Berkes (University of Manitoba, Canada) and Xavier Basurto (Duke University, USA), managed to characterize both the theoretical and the practical foundations of co-production of knowledge, drawing on their own successful examples.
Affably, and with empathy, Dr. Berkes urged that we all, in harmonious and mutual respect, can (and should) incorporate traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), indigenous and local knowledge (ILK), western science, and/or other knowledge systems to achieve local and planetary stewardship.
Dr. Berkes shared a beautiful story about the Inuit community of Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. Members of the community had discovered an intermediate layer of cold water in the column of seawater – a product of melting - creating differences in water density and salinity. They reached out to inform oceanographers of their findings, but were not believed. The researchers’ theories did not predict this possibility. Even so, it was a fact.
How could the Inuit community determine these changed water conditions? Simple. When the Inuits hunted for seal, the seals’ bodies sank to a specific place: the layer of colder water. The water conditions affected the buoyancy of the seal, preventing it from sinking. The Inuits could then recover the seals, using their hand traps.
Using another specific example, Dr. Berkes stressed local knowledge not only has the information of variables that, for example, can be registered by a meteorological station. Far better. Local knowledge includes a combination of many variables in an integrated way, much richer in information and predictive capacity.
The morning progressed, the minutes of the plenary passed. For us participants, there could be no better place to be. In a moment when we all seemed engrossed, a provocative question surprised us: "What are we talking about when we talk about scaling up a knowledge system?". Dr. Xavier Basurto was in charge of the microphone. "Can the ILK be scaled up for planetary stewardship?".
He referred an octopus fishery case in Yucatan, Mexico. A project where funders wanted output in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Dr. Basurto and team identified paradigmatic disparities in the different actors’ motivations to scale up. When evaluating the fishermens’ main motivation, the fishermen mentioned increased representation, and equity and functionality, in order to sustain their livelihood in the long-term (intermediate-size cooperatives performed best). Governmental motivation to scale up investment is instead infrastructural - to gain access to markets and market connectivity, and achieve improvements in income and employment rates. The plenary left a clear message: The upscaling-process is a political exercise in empowerment. Today, about 20,000 small-scale fishermen and fisherwomen make up a national confederation in Mexico.
With this successful example, returning to where we started (co-production of knowledge), I cannot stop thinking that the concept of organizing was never only meant for internally affiliated acting. Organizing is acting according to a common perception, at whatever level.
Researcher of the CONICET (National Council of Scientific and Technical Research from Argentina). Research on Marine Socio-Ecological Systems and Political Ecology. I study the pelagic ecology of diverse marine top predators, and their environment, in order to get to know the various pieces of the big puzzle representing the Patagonian marine socio-ecosystems. I am particularly focused on generate applied knowledge to the management and conservation of these complex scenarios. I am also dedicated to investigate the epistemological procedures and academic practices, seeking to generate spaces for the transdiscipline, towards the so longed social-ecological sustainability. I believe in the Aristotelian eudaimonia as a political-humanitarian objective. That is the force-idea that motivates my militant and academic work.
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II CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRAMME ON ECOSYSTEM CHANGE AND SOCIETY